As a patient and consumer of health care services, you may have questions about the sharing of your health information, electronic medical records and health information exchange. These questions and answers will help you understand the changing world of health care and how sharing your health information electronically between your doctors will result in better quality care for you. Many of the documents (i.e. Patient Notice, Opt-Out form, etc) discussed in the FAQs below are included in the Important Documents for Patients to Review section of the website.
1. What is the West Virginia Health Information Network (WVHIN)?
The WVHIN is West Virginia’s Health Information Exchange (HIE). WVHIN connects doctors, hospitals, clinics, labs, pharmacies and other health care providers across the State. All health care providers that are members of the WVHIN are required to abide by all federal and state laws regarding safeguarding and proper use of personal health information. The WVHIN’s HIE allows health care providers that are treating you or paying for the health care services you get to electronically share health information.
The WVHIN’s HIE is not a complete record of your medical history and does not keep or store your health information. Your Electronic Health Record (EHR) is kept by your doctor, much like your paper record. Any of your health information that is not stored in an EHR or converted to an electronic format will continue to be shared by fax, mail or courier as required to treat you.
2. Why is the WVHIN’s HIE important to me?
WVHIN’s HIE allows your health care providers to access your health information quickly and give you the best care possible. It is easy to forget the details of your medical care. WVHIN can improve the care you receive and remove burdensome practices such as…
- Having to remember all of the medications you take or having to bring in all of your medications to your appointments
- Bringing x-rays or other test results to a specialist or referral appointment
- Having to remember what medical procedures or tests you have had performed
- Having unnecessary or repeated tests
Allowing your doctors to share your health information improves the coordination of the care you receive from your family doctor and other specialists. Each doctor seeing you will know which tests or procedures you have received and the medicines you take.
In the event of a medical emergency, sharing your health information through the WVHIN’s HIE can save your life. By sharing your health information, emergency room doctors would be able to know important information like allergies, drug interactions or if you have a pacemaker or other medical implants. This information may save your life if you are unconscious or unable to speak to doctors or nurses.
Sharing your health information electronically is a simple step to ensure that you, as a patient, receive the best care possible when you need it.
3. What is a Health Information Exchange (HIE)?
A health information exchange is an electronic way for health care providers to share your health information. Sharing health information electronically through an HIE is faster and more convenient than sending paper records by mail, fax or courier. The WVHIN operates a health information exchange.
4. What is an Electronic Health Record (EHR)?
In the past, health care providers kept your health information in paper form. Today more doctors and hospitals are using computers to keep patient health information and record the treatment they receive. There are many systems that perform these functions and they are called Electronic Health Records or EHRs.
An EHR contains the same information as your paper health record and is stored by your doctor in a computer. Information contained in your EHR may include…
- Basic demographic information (your name, date of birth, address and phone number)
- Medical history and diagnosis
- Medications you are taking
- Lab and test results
- Summaries of hospital visits
- Immunization records
5. What are the advantages of having an Electronic Health Record (EHR)?
There are many advantages to using an EHR instead of a paper record system for storing your health information. Some of these advantages are…
- EHRs can save you time, reducing how many forms you must fill out about your medical history or past medical procedures.
- EHRs store information about the medicines you take, making it possible for you to visit your doctor without bringing all of your medications. EHRs can also check to make sure the medicines you take do not interact in a harmful way.
- EHRs can provide alerts to your doctors about tests you may need or follow up care to be provided.
- EHRs ensure there is a safe copy of your health record in case of fire or other natural disasters.
- EHRs make it faster and easier for emergency rooms to find important health information about you in the event of a medical emergency.
- EHRs provide privacy by limiting who can see your health information and by tracking who has seen your health information.
6. Why would my health care providers use the WVHIN’s HIE to share my health information?
Health care providers would use the WVHIN to share your health information with other providers directly involved in your treatment and as required by law for public health reporting.
Health care providers using paper records already share your health information for these purposes. The only difference is they currently share your health information by mail, fax, telephone or courier.
Sharing your health information through the WVHIN is more secure and faster than sharing paper medical records.
7. Who can use the WVHIN’s HIE to see my health information?
Health care providers who have a treatment relationship with you can see your personal health information through the WVHIN’s HIE. These health care providers and their staffs are called “authorized users.” Simply put, your doctor, dentist, pharmacist and certain members of their staffs can see your health information.
It is important to understand not ALL authorized users can see ALL of your health information. For example, a doctor or nurse may see your medical history and current medications to treat you, but the receptionist may only see your name, address and date of birth. This is called “role based access” and is one of the many features that protect the privacy of your health information. (See Question 9 & 10 for more information)
8. When will my health care providers share my health information through the WVHIN’s HIE?
As a member of the WVHIN, your health care providers must sign legal documents that require them to follow all policies and procedures of the WVHIN’s HIE.
You must be notified by your health care provider in writing if they are participating in the WVHIN’s HIE. WVHIN requires HIE participating providers to provide you with a patient notice. The notice will tell you…
- Your health care provider is a member of the WVHIN’s HIE
- How your health information will be used and shared through the WVHIN’s HIE
- How you can “Opt-Out”, or not participate in having your health information shared through the WVHIN’s HIE (See Questions 13 & 14 for more information)
- If you change your mind, how to rejoin the WVHIN for sharing of your information (Opt-In)
Once you have received this notice, your health care providers may share your health information through the WVHIN’s HIE for treatment purposes and also as required by law for public health reporting.
9. How is my health information and privacy protected?
There are specific rules and standards that health care providers must follow to keep your information private and safe.
Below are two federal laws that protect your privacy and security…
- The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA)
HIPAA protects your privacy and personal health information stored by your health care providers and applies not only to paper records but electronic records as well. HIPAA also requires your health care providers to give you a Notice of Privacy Practices (or Patient Notice). This notice will tell you what rights you have as a patient when it comes to your health information and how it is shared by your health care providers. Even if your health care provider is not a member of the WVHIN, your health care providers must give you their Notice of Privacy Practices.
- The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act of 2009 (HITECH)
HITECH provides additional rules and security standards to protect your health information when it is in an electronic format such as an EHR.
The WVHIN’s HIE meets or exceeds the national and state standards for the security of electronic health information. WVHIN is also required to meet or exceed any new standards developed for health information exchange.
10. What do you mean by “Health Care Providers”?
Throughout this document you will see the term Health Care Providers. This term is defined as any person or business that directly provides health care services. Some examples of Health Care Providers would be…
- Nursing homes
- Health departments
- Home health agencies
- Insurance companies (When paying for your care)
11. How does sharing my health information lead to better care?
Sharing your health information between doctors that are treating you can allow them to have the most complete “picture” of your health. This allows your doctors to be more informed about what medical conditions you may have, medicines you are taking, or medical procedures you have had or may need. Allowing health care providers to share your information electronically through the WVHIN’s HIE helps them decide the best and safest way to treat you.
12. What do I need to do to allow my health information to be shared through the WVHIN’s HIE?
Sharing your health information through the WVHIN’s HIE is easy. You do not need to do anything in order to allow your health care providers to share your health information.
When your health care provider becomes a member of the WVHIN they will provide you with a Patient Notice informing you of their participation and how they share your health information through the WVHIN’s HIE.
It is important for you to understand that your participation is voluntary and you have the right not to participate. We call this a decision to “Opt-Out”.
13. What if I do not want my health information shared through the WVHIN?
Participation in the WVHIN’s HIE is voluntary and you have the right to “Opt-Out” while visiting a participating health care provider. If you decide you do not wish to share your health information through the WVHIN’s HIE simply ask your health care provider for the “WVHIN Request for Opt-Out”. Follow the simple instructions on the form and return it to the provider. By opting out you are simply stating that you do not want your health information exchanged through the WVHIN’s HIE. Your health care providers will still be able to exchange your paper medical records by fax, mail or secure email.
There are a few things you should keep in mind if you choose to “Opt-Out”…
- WVHIN’s HIE will keep your personal information (name, address, birth date, etc.) on file in a Master Patient Index to keep a record of your decision to “Opt-Out”.
- Your health care providers will still be able to exchange your health information by mail, fax, telephone and secure email.
- Your doctor or health care provider will still be able to use the WVHIN’s HIE to report…
- communicable diseases
- immunization data
- quality reports
- other required public health information to state and federal agencies
14. What do you mean by “Opt-Out”?
Opt-Out is the term used when you do not want your health information shared through the WVHIN’s HIE. Simply put, if you Opt-Out, your health care providers will not share your health information electronically through the WVHIN’s HIE.
15. What if I have already chosen to “Opt-Out” but have changed my mind and want to participate in the WVHIN’s HIE?
If you have decided in the past to “Opt-Out” of the WVHIN’s HIE you can change your mind and begin to participate at any time. Participating health care providers can enroll you back into the system. You must ask your health care provider to give you the WVHIN “Request to Reverse Opt-Out Form”. Once you have completed the form and returned it to your health care provider, they will be able to share your health information electronically through the WVHIN’s HIE.
16. What if I have additional questions about the WVHIN or HIE?
Understanding how your health information is shared is very important. If you have additional questions you can get more information by…